Rating 5 stars out of 5
Sixteen year old Prince Telmé Guldbrandsen has been groomed to become a Prince of the Blood and take over as Commander of the Legion. Equally young Korin is heir to the Reach of the House and the Temple of the Sacred Three. Expectations run high for him as well since it has been foretold that he will be the next High Priest. Telme’ and Korin are also engaged to each other, an unfortunate affair since neither boy can stand the other. Between the constant fighting and endless quarreling, the Halls of Castle Guldbrandsen have been ringing with shouts of anger and fists hitting flesh instead of calm and the silence of boys at their studies to the displeasure of the royal family and all the others around them.
Monsters and dark mages left over from the last war lurk all around the kingdoms. Princes of the Blood, and their fellow supernatural beings are the only things that stand between them and the remainder of humankind. But humans that will allow their children to be tested to see if they have the right percentage of Demon blood are few as are pure blooded humans. When found, they are brought to the Castle Guldbrandsen for testing and to strengthen ties through marriage. Just such an happening at Castle Guldbrandsen ends in a devastating and unthinkable event, leaving those still standing awash in grief and anger. Telme’ and Korin are Castle Guldbrandsen’s last hope but can they put aside their distrust and personal hatred long enough to save the kingdom and each other in the bargain?
In Despair marks the end of the Princes of the Blood trilogy by Megan Derr and I am so sad to get to the end of this marvelous tale of love, loss, and magic. From the beginning, Megan Derr made the fascinating and quirky decision to write this trilogy backwards. The first book, Of Last Resort (Princes of the Blood #1) takes place towards the end of the trilogy’s timeline, and each book thereafter moves the story back towards the beginning years and the history that is only hinted at in the first book. It’s a challenging and imaginative format and its has worked beautifully here.
In Despair starts out with the characters in deep despair, a state that will follow them into the past. Telme’ stands at the bedside of Koren who is terribly wounded from his fight with an angel from Of Last Resort. That momentous battle came at the end of the first story and it left Koren in a coma. Now as the trilogy comes to an end, Derr puts us down at Castle Guldbreandsen to get at glimpse at the lives of those impacted by that battle. While Telme’ waits at Koren’s bedside, he remembers back to when they were teenagers and at odds with each other. And from that time on, In Despair starts its own tale of war, black magic, loss and love.
Megan Derr is one of my favorite fantasy authors. In the Princes of the Blood trilogy she weaves together romance, action, adventure, fantasy and magic into stories that both the YA and adult readers will love. As with all her stories, we start off with some amazing world building. From Castle Guldbrandsen whose rulers have a very close connection to demons as well as all the fantasy beings that make up the incredible magic protectors of the realm, the army of mixed-blood beings known as the King’s Legion: dragoons, shadowmarch, sorcerers, titans…and of course, the Princes of the Blood. Derr has folded so many rich details and layers into this world. The trilogy starts after a cataclysmic war has occurred that brought forth all sorts of demons and set them loose in the world almost destroying it. While the war ended centuries ago, the aftermath has left demons scattered throughout the kingdoms, the human population with varying degrees of demon blood in them due to intermarriage, and necromancers others still trying to reopen the door’s to hell and start the war all over again. And with each story, Derr reveals more about the past through the characters battles in the present time and their interactions with each other.
In Despair is a standout from the other two stories in the trilogy in a number of ways. First, the characters here are the youngest of all the main characters whose tales and romance unfold in these three books. Telme’ and Koren are but sixteen (with Koren slightly younger than Telme’). Telme’ and Koren exhibit all the stubbornness, impetuousness, and capriciousness of youth. Quick to anger, unable to communicate, and equally quick to assume hurt and humiliation, these two young boys yet have the weight of the kingdom on their shoulders. Both are expected to assume two of the highest positions in Castle Guldbrandsen and neither has the maturity or knowledge needed to make that leap to power and responsibility. Sullenness and fights are the rule for both as are misunderstandings and punishment. Derr makes both boys come across so real, so human in their insecurities, pain, and anger. It is easy for the reader to see both sides of the picture for each teenager because it is such a recognizable stage of human growth. Between hormones and pushing back against parental expectations, Telme appears not only “bratty” as the adults term him but overwhelmed by the responsibilities he doesn’t want to assume. And the reader gets that too, particularly as becoming a Prince of the Blood means turning into a demon or half demon at a young age. By his behavior Telme has delayed the test but time is running out. Derr makes both boys so young in their mental and emotional development that we connect with them easily. Then she jerks their foundations out from under them and the tale really gets underway.
As with all marvelous coming of age stories that include high adventure and fantasy, it must also include the darkness of evil and absolute loss. As Castle Guldbrandsen falls under the destructive powers of both, Telme’ and Koren must pull together, grow up (somewhat) and assume the duties they have been avoiding. It’s a timeless, dramatic concept and Derr’s treatment of it and her characters growth is as compelling as they come. That’s possible because no matter what challenges these boys face or hurdles they must overcome, they remain the teenagers they are. They still make poor judgement calls, make assumptions about each other and the events that occur that adults with more experience would disregard, and suffer from the lack of practical knowledge and maturity that age would have given them. I love that there is no “instant adult” changeover in persona. No, these are still kids trying to fill adult shoes and mostly succeeding to mixed reviews from the grownups around them. How can you not empathize with a sixteen year old who has just kind of “saved the day” only to come back to adults who don’t like the way he did it? As an adult, you can see both sides but the teenager in you will be just as dumbfounded and angry as Telme’ is. That’s one of the real beauties of this story and this trilogy, Megan Derr tells it in such a way that we believe so deeply in these characters and their lives that we can see all sides to every argument and still come down on the side of youth and fragility no matter our own age.
At the end, Megan Derr brings the story back around to the time of the first story, Of Last Resort, with Telme’ still waiting to see if Koren lives. Her circle is complete, and her trilogy is almost over. All the characters from all three stories appear and their stories resolved in scenes and mentions of events happening inside the castle. Did I love the way In Despair ended? Absolutely. Do I recommend In Despair and the entire Princes of the Blood trilogy? Without question.
Of Last Resort, With Pride and In Despair will all be at the top of ScatteredThoughtsandRogueWords Best of 2014 lists this year. Check them all out but read them in the order that Derr wrote them. It will make for some magical reading and leave you sighing for more at the end. Just like me.
Cover art by Aisha Akeju who is quickly becoming a new favorite artist of mine.
Published July 9th 2014 by Less Than Three Press
original titleIn Despair
seriesPrinces of the Blood #3
Princes of the Blood Series include (written in reverse sequence)